Stupidity Is the Same as Evil If You Judge by the Results

Margaret Atwood? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Foolish actions can lead to disastrous results. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the actions of a stupid individual versus a malevolent individual. The prominent Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood once made a statement of this type. Would you please help me to find it?

Quote Investigator: Margaret Atwood published the novel “Surfacing” in 1972. One of her characters expressed the notion under examination. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

But I admit I was stupid, stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results, and I didn’t have any excuses, I was never good at them. My brother was, he used to make them up in advance of the transgressions; that’s the logical way.

QI has also examined a thematically related saying that provides a distinct perspective: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1976 Professor of Psychology Paul G. Swingle published “The Management of Power” which included the following passage: 2

Does it really matter whether or not an injustice results from or is maintained by incompetence, apathy, indifference, ignorance, or malevolent intent? We argue, on compassionate grounds, that bureaucratic violence is more deplorable when it results from malfeasance than when it results from “well-intentioned” but, alas, incorrect action. However, as Margaret Atwood (1972) points out in her novel Surfacing , “stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results [p. 29].”

In April 2019 “The Ottawa Citizen” of Ontario, Canada printed a puzzle feature called “Canadian CyberQuotes” with the following solution: 3

Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results.
—Margaret Atwood (b. 1939, Ottawa. Poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, environmental activist)

In November 2019 quotation specialist Mardy Grothe placed the quotation ascribed to Atwood into one of his weekly emails. 4

In conclusion, Margaret Atwood should receive credit for the statement she wrote in her 1972 novel “Surfacing”. The quotation occurred within the interior monologue of a character and Atwood herself may hold a different viewpoint.

Image Notes: Collection of emoticons from Clker-Free-Vector-Images at Pixabay. Image has been resized.

Notes:

  1. 1983 (First Published 1972), Surfacing by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 3, Quote Page 31, General Publishing Company, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1976, The Management of Power by Paul G. Swingle (University of Ottawa), Chapter 2: Parameters of Power and Conflict, Quote Page 72, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)
  3. 2019 April 27, The Ottawa Citizen, Canadian CyberQuotes by Adrian Powell, Quote Page B7, Column 1, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Newspapers_com)
  4. Email Newsletter: Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week, Title: This Week’s Theme: “Stupidity”, Newsletter author: Mardy Grothe, Date within email: November 17 to 23, 2019, Description: Weekly email sent to a group of quotation enthusiasts. (Received November 16, 2019)